Sunday, March 30, 2008

RUNAWAYS VOL. 1 by Brian Vaughn

RUNAWAYS is a graphic novel published by Marvel Comics revolving around six teenagers with nothing in common except for the fact that their parents know each other. Once a year they are forced to spend an evening together while their parents have a secret meeting. Unable to stand the boredom during one of these nights, the kids decide to sneak in and see what really goes on behind the closed doors of these meetings. They learn that their parents are supervillains with powers that are maintained by sacrificing a human life on an annual basis. Witnessing the sacrifice shatters the kids' world and sends them running for their lives.

Nico, Gertrude, Chase, Karolina, Molly, and Alex learn their true heritage and each get a weapon or a power that they didn't know they had. Nico is the daughter of dark wizards and carries the "Staff of One," which allows her to cast spells. Gertrude is the daughter of time-traveling criminals and receives a genetically engineered deinonychus which she shares a telepathic bond with. Chase is the son of mad scientists and he uses high-tech gadgets he stole from his parents' laboratory to help them with their missions. Karolina is the daughter of alien invaders and can fly and manipulate solar energy. Molly is the daughter of evil mutants and has super strength, and Alex is the son of crime bosses and turns out to be a big surprise.

The kids run underground and hide in a place they call "The Hostel" and try to come up with ways to thwart their parents' evil plans and help the world -- while at the same time, stay alive.

Comic book fans will be glad to see some familiar superheroes make appearances throughout the book, such as Captain America and Cloak and Dagger. RUNAWAYS VOL. 1 is the collection of comic book issues #1 through #18 in hardback format. Volume 2 is already out and Volume 3 will be released in April 2007. Beginning with Issue #25, Volume 2, Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will take over writing responsibilities. The graphic novel world is very excited about this development.

RASH by Pete Hautman

Picture, if you will, life in the year 2076. You are living in The United Safer States of America and things such as obesity, verbal abuse, and dangerous activities are against the law. The legal driving age is twenty-six. Even sports such as football are illegal. Sports that are allowed are hindered due to all the safety gear the participants are required to wear. This is the world that sixteen-year-old Bo Marsten inhabits.

Bo has inherited a bit of a temper from his father who has been in prison since 2073 for road rage. He has been in trouble at school many times for “failing to control his antisocial impulses,” but when he is falsely accused of causing a rash that spreads throughout the school, his anger gets the best of him and he assaults a classmate. This action lands him in a work camp in the middle of the Canadian tundra that is surrounded by hungry polar bears.

The work camp Bo is sent to is a factory that makes pizzas. He becomes a member of a four man team with the responsibility of using the pepperoni gun. Each pull of the trigger on the pepperoni gun delivers twenty-six pepperoni on each pizza. When the team works in sync, life isn’t so bad. There is only one group that causes Bo problems while he is there, the Goldshirts. The Goldshirts are an elite group at the pizza factory that have special privileges like a variety of food, when the others only have defective pizzas to eat for every meal, every day. The Goldshirts main job is to play football for the warden.

All new editions to the work camp eventually have a tryout in front of the warden. This entails running and catching a pass. If you catch it, you become a Goldshirt and are placed on the team. Bo makes the team and experiences physical activity without protective gear for the first time in his life. The warden requires that the team practice every day for several hours in order to prepare for an illegal game with another work camp. If you want to remain a Goldshirt, you play even if you are injured.

After surviving work camp and brutal football games, Bo, with the help of an unlikely attorney, is released from his sentence and allowed to go home. Bo begins to think about life in the USSA and considers where else he can go that would allow more freedom.

Pete Hautman has written a unique sports novel for the sci-fi/fantasy lover. This interesting look at what might happen to a society more concerned with safety than freedom is a page-turner. The reader will enjoy comparing today’s life with the life Hautman has created.


Barry Lyga explodes into the teen literature world with his unique debut novel. THE ASTONISHING ADVENTURES OF FANBOY AND GOTH GIRL is a novel about one young man’s journey through confidence development.

Fanboy, a sophomore in high school, floats through life hoping to remain invisible since he has, more than once, fallen victim to bullies. His life is a lonely life. His parents have been divorced for six years; his mother is remarried and pregnant, visits with his father are becoming less frequent due to his father’s increased social life, and he doesn’t relate to his stepfather at all.

Fanboy has been compiling a list for quite some time. The list includes people that have “pissed him off" for no particular reason. Once you are on the list, you never get off. This includes the jock jerks and girls from the cliques that seem to dismiss him as if he has no business even attending school with them.

One bright spot in Fanboy’s day is visiting with his friend Cal. Cal is a jock jerk, but also has a passion for comic books, and the two often debate, in depth, about different issues in the comic book universe. The problem with being friends with Cal is, since he is a jock jerk, he doesn’t act like much of a friend at school. Fanboy knows to back off when Cal’s teammates approach them at school. Most of their conversations take place on the weekends or at night through instant messages.

Fanboy’s life begins to change when he receives an instant message from an unknown person. Fearing it is another trick to humiliate him, he doesn’t respond. After several messages and an email, he learns that it is a girl from his gym class. Kyra has been witnessing his torment the entire year. She has taken pictures of a bully hitting him in the arm while the teachers do nothing. After this initial contact through instant messaging, they agree to meet and Fanboy’s life will never be the same.

The biggest secret in Fanboy’s life, which he hasn’t even shared with Cal, is the graphic novel he is creating. Schemata takes up all of his free time and he can’t stop himself from sharing it with Kyra. She becomes a huge supporter and inspiration for the graphic novel. Fanboy is planning to attend a comic book convention where Michael Bendis himself is going to be signing autographs. Fanboy intends to show Bendis his work and truly believes it will be the break he needs to get Schemata published. Surprising and disastrous events at the convention lead Fanboy to worry about Kyra’s well-being. While thingsdon’t work out exactly as he plans, Fanboy realizes confidence is the key to his problems. After many uncharacteristic behaviors, he manages to come to terms with some of the issues in his life and makes plans for the future. He even takes someone off “the list.”

THE ASTONISHING ADVENTURES OF FANBOY AND GOTH GIRL will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy teenage problem novels. Comic book fans will enjoy the graphic novel references, especially the cameo appearance by Michael Bendis. While the ending left me slightly unsatisfied, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of this novel. This will be a great addition to any collection.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

UNLEASHED by Kristopher Reisz

Daniel’s doesn’t feel in control of his life. He is a senior in high school and seems to have everything going for him. He just received word from Cornell that he has been accepted and everyone is excited - except him. Daniel knows he doesn’t deserve the early acceptance into Cornell. He feels like a cheater.

Daniels parents found a doctor that agreed to diagnose Daniel as ADHD which allowed him more time for his SATs. He has never felt comfortable with this decision, but his parents insist he deserves his spot at Cornell despite how he got it. With his feelings unsettled about his future, he begins to notice a group of kids that are on the fringe of school society. The outcasts.

Misty and twin brother Marc are of mixed race in Birmingham, AL where thoughts of the civil rights movements are still fresh on peoples’ minds. They are frequently referred to as “stray” or “mutt” by their peers and struggle to maintain the motivation to attend school. Misty and Marc, together with their friends Val and Eric, begin to visit an abandoned furnace and discover a wild mushrooms growing in the dank and dark building. They decide to eat the mushrooms hoping for a wild ride. They discover animalistic instincts they didn’t know they had after ingesting the mushrooms and shift into wolves, leaving behind their humanity. At first, this transformation is short, but as they continue to make the transformation their ability to stay in wolf form gets longer and longer.

Daniel and Misty begin to form a relationship. Daniel just wants an out from his pre-determined life. Misty is looking to the future. She invites him to join the pack and sets Daniel’s life on a very different path.

While this book isn’t a MUST read, it is enjoyable and a unique concept for a werewolf story. The language is rough (sometimes crude) and there are many sexual situations between various couples. This is definately not a book for the typical middle school reader.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

PREY by Lurlene McDaniel

In the same vein as Teach Me by R.A. Nelson and Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Lurlene McDaniel writes PREY, the story of a fifteen-year-old boy who gets involved with his much older female teacher. This is a very short book told in alternating chapters by Ryan (the young man), Lori (the teacher), and Honey (Ryan’s best friend who has been nursing a major crush on him for years).

Throughout the book the reader can see that Lori intends to start a relationship with Ryan from the first minute she meets him. She is manipulative and easily seduces Ryan. We can see that Lori suffers from deep scars caused by her father and is plagued by bouts of depression. She isn’t a likeable character because of her attitude towards men. She uses her body as a tool to get what she wants and doesn’t consider it a bad thing at all.

Ryan is a typical teenager. He has a nice group of friends, plays video games, and keeps up with his school work. Once his relationship with Lori starts though, things change. He stops hanging out with Honey and his other friends and his school work begins to suffer. Most of the time he loves being with Lori, but sometimes misses his old life where there wasn’t anything to worry about except grades and getting a car.

Honey is the first person to realize that Ryan isn’t acting like himself. She takes it upon herself to find out what is going on and her actions lead to some major fallout.

My main problem with the book is the final chapter which takes place three years after the affair ends. I have a feeling the author was trying to illustrate how emotionally damaging it is for a young person to be in this type of relationship, but it came off weird. Things about Ryan’s personality that we were never introduced to in the book come out in the last couple of pages (things about his life even before his relationship with Lori). Whereas without this final information I liked Ryan, but after reading the final chapter, he seemed like a creep. I’m anxious to hear what other people think about this. Is it just me? Let me know in a comment.

There is some strong language in the book, but the sex scenes aren’t very graphic. Still this isn’t a book for middle schoolers. Boy Toy and Teach Me are much better examples of this storyline.

THE HOST by Stephenie Meyer

Wanderer has just arrived on Earth and been implanted into her new host. She has lived on seven worlds before coming here. She is arriving toward the end of the alien invasion when very few humans remain. The aliens are known as "souls" and are a peace loving type that don’t know of violence or lying.

Very few humans remain on Earth. When the remaining humans are discovered, they are captured by Seekers - the closest thing to a police force the "souls" have. Once captured, they are prepared for implantation where a small cut is placed at the base of the skull and the "soul" is put in the body. The "soul" connects to the body and takes control. The first experience the "soul" has is the receiving of the host body’s memories. Typically, the host recedes and leaves the "soul" alone to continue life as usual. For Wanderer, this didn’t happen.

Since the only humans left are ones that are rebels, placing a new "soul" into an adult has become risky. The rebels seem to resist the implantation since they know what is happening. The Wanderer was granted this request because of her experience on so many other worlds and has proven herself as a strong and brave "soul." Melanie is the name of Wanderer’s host and Melanie doesn’t go away quietly.

Melanie remains active and talks to Wanderer all the time. Melanie bombards Wanderer with her memories of life so much so that Wanderer feels the same feelings that Melanie did when she had control over her own body. Melanie hides the memories that Wanderer needs though. A Seeker has been assigned to Wanderer in order to get information about the human rebels that worked with Melanie. Melanie is strong enough to block those memories from her.

Eventually, in a weakened state, Melanie allows something to slip through the wall she has constructed to keep Wanderer away from the people she loves. She shows her memories of Jared, the man Melanie desperately loves, and Jamie, her younger brother. These memories overwhelm Wanderer and she physically aches for Jared and Jamie herself. Melanie knows where they might have gone into hiding since she was captured. She convinces Wanderer to go search for them and when the chance presents itself she slips away from the Seeker and sets off to find the people THEY love.

When Wanderer finally stumbles upon the rebels she is both elated and terrified. She is so relieved to know that Jared and Jamie are both alive and well, but at the same time, is frightened for her own life. Wanderer endures weeks of isolation and deprivation once in custody while the rebels decide what to do with her. Slowly some people warm up to her and begin to allow her some freedom around the hideout, but she is never alone. They are afraid she is there to get information to take back to the Seekers and then come back and capture them all. It takes a very long time for them to see that she has no intention of turning anyone in to the Seekers.

The story is complex. Not only is there the issue of Melanie loving Jared and the Wanderer loving Jared because of Melanie’s memories; we also have Ian, another member of the rebels. Ian takes it upon himself to become a permanent fixture in Wanderers life. He is friend and protector and begins to have feelings for her and her alone (not Melanie since he didn’t know her prior to the invasion).

The story ends on a note of hope. It is an emotional ride from beginning to end - all 631 pages. Any science fiction fan will enjoy this story, but I think Stephenie Meyer may have done for science fiction what she did for fantasy when she wrote Twilight. THE HOST is set in enough of a realistic setting that even people who aren’t sci-fi fans will enjoy this story. I want to read it again, but I have so much else to read that I can’t right now, but THE HOST is definately on my "to be read again" pile. I hope Stephenie Meyer writes another novel after she finishes with the Twilight Series.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Win City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare from The Story Siren

The Story Siren is giving away a copy of City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. It is the second book in the Mortal Instruments series. It is absolutely fantastic. Check out earlier posts to see reviews for both books in the series. But first, go to The Story Siren's site to sign up for the free copy.

WAKE by Lisa McMann

After reading many great things about WAKE by Lisa McMann, I decided to pick it up and give it a try. It took me a little over 3 hours to read it and I was disappointed when it was over. Luckily there is a teaser of the sequel, FADE, in the back that gave me a little bit more. Unfortunately, FADE doesn’t come out until February of 2009, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

Janie gets sucked into other people’s dreams. She tries to stop it, but can’t resist the overwhelming pull. She first noticed it happening when she was eight-years-old. Janie has witnessed everything from the typical falling dream and standing naked in front of a crowd dream to World War II battle dreams. Most of the time she is just an observer. Even if the dreamers ask for her help, she can’t manage to do anything.

Janie’s life has been hindered by this "curse." She found out early that sleepovers weren’t good for her. The close proximity of the other girls caused her to experience their dreams and not get any rest for herself. It doesn’t have to be nighttime for this to happen though. Anytime someone around her is asleep - she gets sucked in - at school, on the bus, driving down the road, etc. When she is in someone else’s dream it looks as if she is having a seizure. All she knows is that she loses feeling in her limbs and becomes paralized. The more frightening the dream, the faster the numbness occurs.

Janie has an alcoholic mother, an unknown father, and is extremely poor. She lives on the "wrong" side of town and has one loyal friend. She lives in isolation in order to avoid being stuck in someone’s dream.

A new addition to her life is Cabel. He lives in her neighborhood and seems to be a loner. She has several interactions with him throughout the book, but their lives become intertwined when she has to let him know about her problem while they are on a school trip together and she is stuck on a bus for several hours with her napping classmates being sucked into one dream after another the whole way. Cabel must help her through. This is a comfort to Janie as well as a new stress. She grows to like Cabel very much, but when she begins to get sucked into his gruesome dream and hears some particularly damning rumors about him, she questions her feelings for him.

With the help of an unlikely person she meets at the nursing home (and some books from the library), Janie begins to gain a little control over her "curse." The reader will be sucked into the dreams with Janie. Your heart will go out to her and cheer as she makes her way through life given the obstacles she must overcome. WAKE is a very inventive story and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

GEEK HIGH by Piper Banks

Miranda Bloom’s world has been turned upside down. Her mother, a famous romance author, has decided to move to England in order to research her next book, but isn’t planning on taking Miranda. Instead she has to move into her father’s house and live with her step-mother, Peyton, and her step-sister Hannah - neither of which want her around EVER.

Miranda attends Notting Hill Independent School for Gifted Children a.k.a Geek High. She is the most gifted math student at school and is known as The Human Calculator - which she hates because being a Human Calculator is pretty useless since everyone has regular calculators.
Miranda isn’t popular at Geek High. She has two loyal friends, Charlie and Finn. Charlie is a very talented artist and Finn is brilliant with computers. In fact, to shake things up this year, Finn has created a tell-all website at When word gets around about the website and a story is posted about the queen bee of the school the principal accuses Miranda of being the creator of the website. She assures the principal she doesn’t have anything to do with it, but refuses to reveal the author. For punishment she is forced to plan the Snowflake Gala - an event that isn’t very popular with the students.

On top of dealing with living in a house where she is considered a guest and being forced to plan the Snowflake she has to deal with the guy she’s been crushing on for two years fall for Hannah. Her principal also blackmails her into joining the competitive math team again even though she wants to be on the high school’s literary magazine instead.

Throughout all the stress of the semester, Miranda manages to learn a lot about herself while at the same time pulling off a wonderful Snowflake Gala. Her relationship with her father drastically improves and she and Hannah even form some kind of bond. Even though the story is a bit predictable, Miranda is an enjoyable character that you’ll want to see win in the end. You’ll be happy to know that GEEK ABROAD, the sequel will be available May of 2008.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jodi Picoult Giveaway from Girls Just Reading

Visit this link to go to the Girls Just Reading post about a wonderful giveaway opportunity. An autographed copy of Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart. All you have to do is leave a comment before midnight EST on March 12th to be entered. The winner will be announced on March 13th. Good Luck!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

MOBY CLIQUE by Cara Lockwood

Miranda Tate is heading back to Bard Academy after at a brutal summer working for her step-mother at her boutique, In The Pink, which sells everything imaginable that is pink. Miranda refers to it as In The Puke and spends most of her time there sitting at the cash register completing her required summer reading of Moby Dick. Miranda is excited about returning to school until she finds out that her sister, Lindsay, is going to be joining her there after running their father's new Land Rover through the front of In The Pink.

Once on campus, Miranda reunites with her friends Blade, Samir, Hana, and of course Heathcliff. She is disgusted to see that Lindsay, who is desperate for the approval of anyone popular, has fallen into the clutches of Parker, Bard's Queen Bee. Miranda also meets her new dorm monitor, Mrs. P, who happens to be Sylvia Plath and gets off on the wrong foot right away.

Miranda also has to deal with her feelings for Ryan - the boy that broke up with her at the end of the previous school year. She can't decide if she still has feelings for him or not, but feels jealous when he continually gives Parker attention and begins to hang around Lindsay. Mirandra knows she loves Heathcliff but has to keep in mind the rule the school places on them. They aren't supposed to have any romantic or physical contact or Bard will send him back to Wuthering Heights.

When Lindsay disappears, like a couple of the other Bard students, Miranda, Samir, Hana, Blade, Heathcliff, Ryan, and Parker all end up entering the forbidden forest to find her. What they find are pirates roaming the island, one of the faculty members behind all the trouble, and Lindsay causing part of the problems.

Can Miranda and her crew save the world again and put everything back into balance? Who does Miranda choose, Ryan or Heathcliff? To see how Moby Dick plays a part in this Bard Academy novel read MOBY CLIQUE by Cara Lockwood. While it can be read as a stand alone novel since the author gives background information to catch up the reader, it will be more enjoyable if the other two novels in the series are read first.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

LUNA by Julie Anne Peters

Regan’s brother, Liam, lives a double life and Regan is the only one who knows about it. Liam assumes the role of “boy” by day and only reveals his/her true self at night. During those moments of peace when she is trying on new outfits, experimenting with different wigs, and trying various makeup techniques she calls herself Luna. Regan witnesses these moments because they always take place in Regan’s room.

Regan’s own life suffers because of the time and effort it takes to keep Luna’s secret. Regan doesn’t feel like she can invite friends over because Luna might emerge. Regan had one slumber party and Luna couldn’t help but join in the dancing and toenail painting. After that humiliation, Regan vowed never to have people over again.

Regan knows her life isn’t full. She doesn’t have friends, doesn’t date, and her relationship with Luna is pretty much one-sided. She is constantly concerned about Luna’s mood; always wanting to make everything okay. When Regan meets Chris in Chemistry class things start to change for her though. She realizes how much she is missing by only focusing on Luna.

Not only do we get to see Liam transform into Luna; we also get to see Regan transform into a confident young woman. While the ending of the book is hopeful, getting there is sometimes heartbreaking.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

BOOT CAMP by Todd Strasser

Garrett is dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night, handcuffed, and taken to Lake Harmony, a teenage boot camp, completely against his will. His parents sent him to this behavior modification camp in order to teach him respect and self-discipline.

Garrett is an extremely bright fifteen-year-old. School has never been a problem for him. In fact, he quite often gets bored. He can finish in three days what it takes most students a whole week to accomplish. So, he doesn’t always go to school. Instead he goes to museums or the park to play chess with the old men.

The main reason Garrett’s parents sent him to Lake Harmony though, is Sabrina. Sabrina was one of his teachers until his parents found out about their relationship. His parents got her fired, but didn’t want to go to the police because they didn’t want the story to go public. His mother is always afraid of how things will look to others. Garrett doesn’t stop seeing Sabrina and even begins to stay at her house overnight. His parents feel that Lake Harmony is the only way to break off the relationship.

At Lake Harmony, Garrett experiences isolation, torture, and both physical and mental abuse. His resists the attempts of the staff to brainwash him into thinking he is wrong about everything. Garrett doesn’t accept the fact that just because his parents are paying $4000 a month for him to be at Lake Harmony, they are right about everything.

It is clear Todd Strasser has done a lot of research on the topic of behavior modification programs for teens. There is an afterword describing some of what he discovered and more importantly, a reference list of materials he used to put together his research for the book. Even though the story wraps up a little too quickly and a little too neatly in the end, it is a story that makes you think.

If you want to know if Garrett can make it through with his self-esteem intact? Read BOOT CAMP by Todd Strasser.
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